Animal rights group argues research violated journal policy by torturing animals
By Stephen Pincock | January 26, 2006
Animal rights campaigners are calling on the Journal of Neuroendocrinology to retract a research paper it published in April last year by Ei Terasawa from the University of Wisconsin, saying it violated the journal's editorial policy against studies that cause unnecessary pain and suffering to experimental animals. Terasawa was temporarily barred from serving as a primary investigator in animal research, but has maintained the research met local and national guidelines.
Last Friday (January 20), Debra Durham, primate specialist with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), sent a letter to the journal's UK-based publisher, Blackwell, urging an immediate retraction "with a full explanation of the violations." The letter also asks the editorial board of the journal to revise its policies to ensure that authors disclose violations and disciplinary actions at the time of article submission.
In August last year, the Primate Freedom Project, a group based in Fayetteville, Georgia, publicized university documents showing that Terasawa had been under investigation by the university's Animal Care and Use Committee for protocol breeches. During the study in question, she and her colleagues used push-pull perfusion to examine the effects of estrogen on luteinizing hormone release in the brains of 12 ovarectomized rhesus macaques.
The committee found that there had been "a variety of deviations from her approved protocols over this period of time," and more negative outcomes than expected for the animals. Specifically, an animal died when a technician left it alone for a 25-minute break.
The documents include a self-assessment by Terasawa, which lists several discrepancies between approved protocols and lab records. They also include a letter from the researcher, dated May 7, 2003, in which she explains that the protocol stating that animals would be "continuously" attended was present in an agreement approved in the late 1980's.
"At that time we could eat and drink in the same laboratory where experiments were conducted, and we had to collect samples manually every 10 minutes," the letter says. "Sometime in the 1990s the rule changed so that no eating and drinking were allowed in the animal area. Thus, we purchased a fraction collector, with which sample collections can be conducted automatically at 10-minute intervals, and scientific staff can have lunch and supper during the long course (10-16 hours) of sample collection."
Terasawa's letter explains that they didn't arrange for other experimenters to switch in during breaks because it was important for experimenters "to keep a continuous 'private' condition in which he/she established a 'rapport' with a monkey."
After the death of the monkey, Terasawa said in her letter, "we realize that the word 'continuously' could mislead our situation," and suggested making a revision in the protocol stating that during the push-pull perfusion experiments animals would be continuously attended by research staff, "except for a few brief breaks of no more than 20 min for bathroom, eating and other incidental needs."
A spokesman for the university confirmed to The Scientist that the papers released by the animal rights group were genuine.
As a result of the investigation, Terasawa was banned from working as a primary investigator on projects involving animal research for two years, starting in 2004, Eric Sandgren from the animal care and use committee said last year.
Göran Hellekant, professor of Animal Health and Biomedical Sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Madison's School of Veterinary Medicine, said in a letter to The Scientist that Terasawa's case was not handled according to UW-Madison policies, or state laws that regulate how accusations must be handled.
PETA's Durham said that the journal could not have been expected to know about the case at the time of publication, because the university did not make any public statement until the documents were leaked in August, several months after the article was published.
In September of last year, she wrote to the journal's editor, Julia Buckingham, asking her to retract the article, which was co-authored by M. Mizuno from Kyushu Institute of Technology, Japan. Buckingham acknowledged receipt of the letter but so far has not contacted PETA further, Durham said.
Four months later, PETA wrote to Blackwell. Virginia Foley, public relations manager for the publisher, said that the company leaves control over issues such as these in the hands of journal editors. Editor Buckingham told The Scientist she was not prepared to discuss the details of any specific paper, but affirmed that the journal had not printed anything that contravened its policies. "I have absolute confidence that everything we have published is within the guidelines of the journal," she said.
Ei Terasawa also told The Scientist via Email that PETA is incorrect in its claims. "All results obtained in this study (published in Journal of Neuroendocrinology) involved animal procedures that meet local and national guidelines," she said.
Links within this article
M. Mizuno, E. Terasawa, "Search for neural substrates mediating inhibitory effects of oestrogen on pulsatile luteinising hormone-releasing hormone release in vivo in ovariectomized female rhesus monkeys (Macaca mulatta)," J Neuroendocrinol. April, 2005.
G. Flores, "Trading up in animal research," The Scientist, November 7, 2005.
Primate Freedom Project
Julia C. Buckingham
Regularly taking breaks from eating—for hours or days—can trigger changes both expected, such as in metabolic dynamics and inflammation, and surprising, as in immune system function and cancer progression.